The most telling moment of the second presidential debate on Sunday night in St. Louis came at the end. After so many viewers sat with their stomachs in knots, trying to figure out which of these two flawed people might be least dysfunctional or less likely to wreck our nation, came a question from Karl Becker.
“Regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”
Suddenly there was an adult in the room. Someone asked the two people seeking the highest office in our nation, and arguably the position as the moral leader of the world, whether they could stop villifying one another long enough to discuss character traits they admired.
It wasn’t just his question, but Becker’s face and how he asked the question. It was like a parent catching you doing something so petty and cruel and disappointing that it would forever color not only their view of you, but your view of you.
While those moments can change a person and get them to check bad behavior in the future, voters are still left wondering whether Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton felt that crisis of self in that moment. Both seem to be immune to self-reflection. Both seem destined to repeat their life patterns and mistakes.
Our nation seems fated to live with one of their realities. As troubling as that is, there is still faith in 240 years of checks and balances. There is still the possibility that Karl Becker’s question will echo in their ears, or at least the ears of the 2020 candidates.